Surviving The First Year As A HubSpot Partner: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Phew, that came up fast - I cannot believe it has been a full year already since we became a HubSpot Partner. It seems not that long ago that I wrote about my experiences in my first 50 days.
Because of my article, I had several marketing agencies reach out to me, asking me if I would recommend becoming a HubSpot partner. The answer, without a doubt in my mind, is a loud resounding YES!
Our First Year On HubSpot - A Rocky, But Fun Journey
But our journey has not been an easy one. We have hit many rocks on the road the past year:
- Month 1-3: The Good - Training, Certifications, New Direction And A New Website. The first three months on HubSpot was an exciting time. We studied like our life depended on it and we finished our Partner Certification in 55 days. We created our buyer personas, an editorial calendar, our first landing pages and offers and redesigned our website.
- Month 4-6: The Bad - Wrong Buyer Persona. Having worked with small businesses in many different industries before, we wanted to carve out a niche in the vast inbound marketing world that we would be knowledgeable and passionate about. We decided on interior designers and architects. We created several high-ranking blog posts and started to see a steady flow of leads trickling in.
- Month 7-9: The Ugly - Inbound Inspired & A Sour Pill To Swallow. Obviously, Inbound Marketing works! But if you make a critical mistake with your buyer personas, you will generate unqualified leads that will not actually lead to sales. This was a sour pill to swallow. After we were inspired by HubSpot's annual user conference, Inbound, we reconsidered our vertical directions and returned back to our roots.
- Month 10-12: The Light At The End Of The Tunnel. Finally, we signed our first Inbound Marketing retainer client on HubSpot. It's a turning point from project work to more strategic, higher ROI work that has time to unfold a planned out strategy. We also used this time to rebrand from Organic SEO Press to 3P Creative Group.
The Results Far Exceeded Our Expectations
But the results were absolutely mind-blowing:
- Published more than 100 blog posts
- Crafted more than 25 conversion paths
- Created about a dozen premium content offers
- Generated 20 times more leads than just 1 year ago
- Increased organic search traffic by 1,271%
- Grew overall website traffic by 969%
- Built my Twitter following 120% on average every month
- Posted more than 1,500 social media messages
- Achieved average 41% open rate with targeted email messages
- Onboarded 2 inbound marketing retainers
- Completed dozens of website projects and marketing campaigns
Month 1-3: The Good - Training, Certifications, New Direction And A New Website
When I signed the dotted line, my consultant, Brian Moseley, said: "Get ready to drink from a firehose!"
Now you have to know two things about me: I am insanely driven and I have an insatiable hunger to learn. (My goal during university was to graduate faster than anyone else with great marks. I worked full-time at SAP while I finished my last year of university and wrote my diploma thesis. Nethertheless, I finished my double degree in Computer Science and Economics in only 4.5 years!)
But I am also realistic. I am not investing in a marketing platform such as HubSpot and then not use it. I knew I would have to take 3 months out of my schedule and really throw myself into it. And so I did.
Within the first 55 days of becoming a HubSpot customer, I became HubSpot Certified and Partner Certified and a Certified Content Marketer with Copyblogger. (If you have never heard of HubSpot Certification, I recommend you have a look at this article.) I plowed through the HubSpot Academy Training and took all the practical assignments seriously.
Once I had the training behind me, I defined and researched my buyer personas. I created many outlines, sketches and sitemaps to create a new website structure. Finally, I built a new & updated website, rewrote and created tons of content.
Month 4-6: The Bad - Wrong Buyer Persona
The problem is Inbound Marketing works. You really dig deep into your buyer persona's questions, problems, and objections. You create amazing content, you start ranking for some pretty awesome keywords and bam, you get traffic and leads!
The problem is, I made a crucial mistake. I chose interior designers and architects as my buyer persona. Personally I am passionate about artsy, crafty things. I love architecture (I spent years with my dad touring Italy scouring out all kinds of architectural gemstones...) and furniture (especially mid-century modern... ). It seemed like a perfect fit: interior / architecture projects are costly, require a lot of research before and are services, rather than commodity products.
We did everything right. We went to Houzz events, we made connections, talked to interior designers and architects. Houzz even features one of our articles on their website and refers people to us every day!
Why is that a problem you ask? Well, there are a few facts that I did not consider in my research. For one, the professional organization that regulates all architects in the US frowned upon (actually forbade) marketing until recently. There is still this notion "If you need to use marketing, you are a bad architect." Secondly, most designers are one (wo)man shops. To get into bigger practices is close to impossible.
Lastly, if the firm does want marketing, it is mostly focused on photographs, not written content.
The moral of the story here is: we chased after the wrong buyer persona for three months. You have to make sure the passion as well as the financial feasibility it there!
Month 7-9: And The Ugly: INBOUND Inspired & Admitting Mistakes
After spending the summer running behind a dream and realizing that it was all for nothing, we packed our bags to head to INBOUND 2014.
I have been to dozens of massive industry conferences before, but going to Inbound was something special, awe-inspiring, humbling and incredibly motivating at the same time. Jeremy and I attended as many sessions as possible and we learned a ton. We met a lot of interesting people, but the feeling of "We are in this together!" was really my favorite part of the entire conference. Well, that, and maybe the sprocket booth.
(BTW: If you are planning to attend INBOUND 2015, snag $50 off your ticket now by registering through this link.)
When we came home and had a few days to really digest everything. We realized that we wasted 3 months and we called it quits on trying to pursue interior designers and architects.
It was an ugly, stressful and downright honest time of soul-searching. We tried to find a niche that really reflects our experience, our passion and is a great fit for Inbound.
We decided to focus on our core:
- Technology - I worked at SAP in Global Marketing and Corporate Strategy for 10 years. I lived and breathed enterprise software, cloud computing, and business intelligence every day.
- Clean Energy, Sustainability, Environmentalism - Being born and raised in Germany, environmental concerns are part of my DNA. As a company and family, we offset 100% of our carbon emissions, plant a vegetable garden and hope one day to have a little goat farm.
- Mission-Driven Businesses - We care as individuals and marketers to make an impact on this planet and we are the best fit for a company that thinks along the same lines.
And then, it finally happened. We signed up two inbound marketing retainers. It was a turning point.
Month 10-12: Turning Point & Rebranding
While website projects and short-term marketing campaigns are a lot of fun, I was really looking forward to my first inbound marketing retainer that would allow me to create and execute a thoroughly planned out marketing strategy and show long-term success to my clients - other than my own company.
We could not have picked a better client for this than the one we signed up as our first retainer client. The CEO was frustrated because she could not find her business on Google when she searched in her own parking lot. After some initial technical clean-up, on-page SEO work, and content improvements their rankings improved significantly. Before we started working together, their website was the 8.9 millionth most popular website - now they are in place 2.4 million.
We started to blog once a week, post daily to social media and created several conversion paths. Within 3 months, we were able to grow their contact database by 30% with new leads! Just this past week we started an email marketing campaign which was extremely successful: one email received a whopping 69% open rate and 15% click rate!
But we also evolved internally. We re-branded from Organic SEO Press to 3P Creative Group for several reasons. Organic SEO Press was an outdated name which put us immediately into the SEO box in clients' minds. We also wanted to cement our dedication to the triple bottom line in our name 3P (people, planet, profit).
We are looking forward to the next years and we excited to see our agency develop as a HubSpot partner. We are ever so grateful to the HubSpot support team, the HubSpot Academy team, our consultants Brian Moseley and Lynn Herman, as well as other HubSpot partners (shout out to the amazing folks at Nextiny Marketing and GoBeyond SEO) we worked with. We are not in this alone. It is great being part of such a supportive and encouraging network.